The Case of The Naughty Neck

The Case of The Naughty Neck

A pain in the neck, that’s what I had. A real one, not a metaphorical one.

Have you ever had a neck ache so bad it wouldn’t go away no matter what you tried to relieve the pressure and tension?

Massage, stretching, cracking, heat or ice, a dose of something out of a bottle of various sorts; nothing helps.

After a week of doing a lot of reading in bed where I was propped up by pillows in a variety of wonky positions, my neck was yelling and screaming at me.

The tension, despite my best expert efforts, continued to build until I felt a spillover of crankiness in my jaw and a headache building on the horizon.

I could feel a lovely [sarcasm font] knot on the lower right portion of the back of my neck.

As any quality massage therapist worth their salt would do, I zeroed in on that right-sided knot and spent some time coaxing it to relax.

It did nothing for my neck and jaw junk.

 

Fast Forward

 

A few days later I was on the teaching staff for the next round of Neurokinetic Therapy in Chicago.

I found myself in a room full of highly achieved manual and movement therapists from a wide array of disciplines who needed to practice their manual muscle testing. I had some muscles in need of testing. Can’t do it myself, so, why not?

I took one for the team [wink].

 

I Had It All Wrong

 

The case of my Naughty Neck was not even close to what I expected it to be.

Most days in clinic, I find people have a lot of overwork happening in the muscles in the back of their neck.

These guys (neck extensors for the kinesiologically literate) like to work overtime, usually because of a history of car accidents/whiplash, and lots of hours logged sitting with slumpy posture over a computer keyboard, handheld device, or steering wheel.

Also, because of a lack of core strength, but that is a story left for another day.

There are muscles encircling your neck that function to move your head and sustain your posture. The human head weighs roughly 12 pounds.

I see a lot of only half of those muscles actually doing their job to hold and move the head.

Neck ache ensues, and left unchecked over decades, it can really wear out the hardware in your neck (read: joint changes that limit your ability to move your head around and maybe cause discomfort).

 

Quit Guessing

 

Here I was, massaging that knot on the lower part of my neck.

Remember, this wasn’t helping even a little. It was completely ineffective at relieving the ache that was building daily.

When I had another practitioner test out the neurological function of my neck muscles, we found I had it 100% backwards.

I assumed.

I guessed.

My guess was incorrect.

In my case, the knot on the back wasn’t forming because those tissues were overworking, but because they were underperforming.

The tight muscle was on the front of my neck, where it didn’t hurt, and the backside guys had no chance of keeping up.

I released the correct muscle on the front of my neck, and the painful spot on the back of my neck went away all on it’s own.

So did my jaw tension.

I could have sworn I heard it sigh with relief.

Oh wait….that was me.

 

This is another great example why we can’t assume and guess we know what’s going on.

When you feel pain, tightness, or tension in your body, it’s always for a reason.

It’s trying to communicate something with you about how your body is functioning.

Too often practitioners only look at the painful spot you point to, but that painful spot is only a fraction of the story.

Without actually looking at what the tissue function looks like, you are left with a guess, and like me, that guess could be wrong.

Wrong guesses keep you from feeling your best.


If you feel like you aren’t firing on all cylinders and have an ache or pain that is really cramping your style, make sure to get it checked out! 

I’m currently accepting new clients and have time to do some evaluations and super sleuthing to see if what I do can help you out.

You deserve it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Aches are a Smoke Signal

Your Aches are a Smoke Signal

How to get to some real solutions to eliminate tightness and discomfort versus chasing the pain with no long-lasting, permanent results. Yep, there is a better way.

 

It’s incredibly common to schedule yourself a massage when you are feeling sore, tired, and cranky.

Photo: micagoto

That familiar burn behind your shoulder blades after a long day at the office. A crabby neck from falling asleep on the couch during the nightly Netflix numb-out. Maybe your knees and low back are shot after your lunchtime run.

If you have any experience receiving massage therapy, how often does the LMT zero in on your painful spot you point to, grounding, pounding, and chiseling away to only have the exact painful spot return?

If you’re lucky you get a small handful of relief for a few days. More often than not you only experience a few hours respite from the nagging discomfort you walked in with.

 

What gives?

Are we doomed to wasting precious time and money on a therapy that, at best, is temporary, or at worst, does diddly-squat for those issues you feel in your tissues?

 

Here’s the Insider, Expert Level, Scoop:

Where you think it is…it ain’t

(Thanks, Ida Rolf, for the sound bite)

 

That sore/crabby/cranky/pissy/tight/pinchy thing you feel going on is merely a smoke signal; it’s informing you something is going on, but it doesn’t tell you exactly what it is.

 

Like a smoke signal, you need to be curious about it before it gives up the details.

From a manual therapy perspective, soft-tissues are often neurologically overworking or neurologically underperforming.

Ideally everything would be working effortlessly and seamlessly in concert together.

When you’re hurting, they likely aren’t.

Both the overwork/underperform states can leave you feeling sore, tight, and likely with some level of discomfort in various movements or activities that call on those muscle groups.

 

To simplify and restate:

  • An overworking muscle can feel tight and painful.
  • An underworking muscle can feel tight and painful.

 

Greeeeat! So which is it?

Million dollar question right here and one that will determine your success at feeling and moving better without a hitch in your giddyup.

In my massage therapy practice, I use an evaluation and muscle testing process that provides us with the information we need to determine what’s what.

If we find a muscle is neurologically amped up, then heck yeah (!), let’s release it. I will gladly press on it for you.

However, if a muscle isn’t properly utilized by your brain in a particular movement pattern, let’s call it “weak” for generalized simplicity’s sake, and not performing at it’s potential, all the deep tissue massage, stretching, cracking, and foam rolling isn’t going to do jack toward helping you recover and restore your ability to dynamically move without pain.

 

The process is quite simple:

  1. Figure out what’s doing too much and too little (Buzzword: Compensation Pattern)
  2. Turn down the volume on the overachiever
  3. Get the slacker back in the game

 

What you experience is better, smoother, effortless movement with a happy and welcomed side effect of a less sore/crabby/cranky/pissy/tight/pinchy body.

Bonus side effect: you cut down on the potential for injury and tissue damage, as well as prevent possible wear and tear on the “hardware” of your body, ‘cause nobody got time for that.

Bonus bonus side effect: you have the ability and energy to show up in deeper, more profound, and effective ways for the people you love and the communities you serve.

Trifecta.

 

 

 

Getting Better With Age

Getting Better With Age

Over the Hill.

A phrase typically thrown around during the middle-aged period of life where we feel like we are reaching the apex and it’s all downhill from there.

The rigors of chronology and physiology intersect as we mourn the passing of our youth, lament how this getting older thing sucks, and begin to see life as a cascade of downward spirals into the grave.

We may not be dead yet but we’re working on it, and we have the aches and pains to prove it.

I call BS on the whole thing.

The Smoky Mountains called. I answered.

This was my first trip in 6 years.

There’s something about spring in the mountains.

The weather is still cool, and the streams are strong after the snowmelt.

The birds are active, the bears are waking up, and the flowers explode all over the place.

The Hubs and I, along with good friends, rented a cabin in Gatlinburg, TN so we could be at the doorstep of the national park.

We aren’t interested in the touristy stuff that brings most people to the area, but 100% occupied with our big goals to hike.

 

 

Mountain trails are in a different league than the forest preserve trails at home.

The trails are uneven ground, full of rocks, roots, and mud.

There are log bridges over quickly running rivers, and sometimes you have to creek-hop your way across on rocks.

There are critters you may stumble upon that you need to know what to do about, because black bear are no joke.

You won’t likely see fitness enthusiasts with their step trackers and Couch-to-5k programs.

It can be life or death out there.

Take your time, take lots of water, and take some food for the trip. Learn how to pee in the woods, and check for snakes first.

You’ll take home with you a profound sense of accomplishment, likely some blisters, maybe some sore muscles, and definitely some new perspectives.

The mountains are great in humbling us and making us feel small.

 

When I hiked the Smokies 6 years ago I had a rough time with it.

The amount of soreness and fatigue I’d feel in my muscles and the stiffness I’d feel in my joints would lay me up for days.

 

This time was different.

I’ve been working on correcting my alignment, strengthening weak, overly mobile areas, and building more movement into my day as a categorical concept instead of just making sure I got my “workout” in.

I look at movement as something natural, healthy, and something we humans are designed to do more of.

 

Working on my Natural Movement made all the difference.

6 years older and 6 years wiser, I hiked more miles in consecutive days than I have ever in my entire life.

There were definitely moments where I had to dig deep.

There were times, when the fatigue would really set in, where my mind told me I wasn’t going to make it. My body, however, is way more capable than my mind gives credit. This isn’t a situation where I can just call it quits on the side of a mountain and call it a day.

You reach your limit, then learn that the actual limit is just beyond your perceived comfort zone.

I’d often feel an ache creep up somewhere, but the alignment and awareness work I’ve been working on for the past few years helped me key in on what was going on in my body.

Is something working too hard? Why? What is slacking? Adjust accordingly.

My new found whole-body awareness allows me to fire up my body in more effective and efficient ways and aches and pains would go away within seconds.

I moved in ways I wasn’t able to when I was younger and in, what I thought, better shape.

 

6 years older I move much better than I did when I was 6 years younger.

I experienced and enjoyed my body in a more positive way, which allowed me to experience and enjoy nature in a more positive way too.

 

Getting older chronologically doesn’t have to mean we suffer pathological aging.

Notice I say it doesn’t have to mean this.

For many it does. Why?

It’s not so much that you peaked too soon in your 20-somethings as you have now spent days-to-decades not moving like in your youthful days.

Think about it: You felt great “back in the day”; what were you doing? What physical activities were you participating in regularly? How many hours of sitting did you accomplish’’’’ in any given day? Was your ratio of being active versus sedentary different than it is now?

Probably.

Blame that, not your age.

 

It’s not your age’s fault for the creaking, cracking, groaning, and grunting you experience in your body.

You’re adapted.

Your body is performing in a manner to the exact activities you are asking it to perform on a regular basis.

Stepping out of that regular routine, your body will tell you about it.

Not age. Adaptation. Often dysfunctional adaptation.

While we don’t have the power to “turn back the clock”, we are capable of changing up our routine and adapting to something different than whatever our “normal” is right now.

 

You can teach an old dog new tricks.

I’ve spent the last 2 ½ years working to adapt my body to something different because I was not enjoying how my body was feeling on it’s path to 40.

As my body nears the “Over the Hill” Birthday in a year, I choose to walk over actual hills and erase almost 4 decades of moving through life in less than ideal, often dysfunctional and compensatory, ways.

I’m covered a lot of ground and I still have quite a ways to go. The road to Mastery is steep, long, and well worth the effort for those curious enough to explore. Dust off your grit and get to steppin’.

Don’t buy the black birthday balloons for me quite yet.

You’ll never hear me blame my age for anything, and if I hear you try, be warned: I’ll probably call you out on it.

Then I’ll invite you hiking with me.

 

 

 

 

 

Asking For Help Is Courageous.

Asking For Help Is Courageous.

Bearing the weight of the world on your shoulders is an exhausting task, a task that wipes out and tears down even the strongest people with the greatest willpower and fiercest constitution.

We live in a culture that praises a schedule designed to overwhelm.

At work, home, and play we wipe ourselves out, drinking from empty cups, feeling stressed out, fatigued, cranky, and sad.

We know it’s killing us, yet why do we keep trying so hard to keep up with the very things we’re likely to complain about to our closest friends?

I recently had an amazingly valuable conversation with a new client in my massage therapy office about the very real physical tensions she is feeling arising from the equally real mental overwhelm and stress she is also experiencing.

She wondered if the two go hand-in-hand.

Her desire to take more robust care of herself was so strong she couldn’t ignore it, however, the status quo of doing everything and being everyone in all things is in direct competition with her inner guidance system.

 

What are we supposed to do in this situation?

The reality of the matter is we are a people who thrive in supportive, caring communities.

We need mercy.

Because of our tremendous need, we are also uniquely positioned to be supportive, caring people who recognize the same need in others and offer assistance to the people around us.

However, because our current cultural norms and standards praise busyness, overwhelm, and stress, most people lack the ability to even ask for help when in need due to the subconscious scripts informing us that “asking for help” is the ultimate sign of weakness.

 

Nothing could be further from the truth.

We find ourselves in a Catch-22: we thrive in supportive communities and environments, yet we never enter into or participate with them because of the lie we are fed.

In our fear of vulnerability, we isolate ourselves.

Isolation further breeds more overwhelm and stress causing us to lose perspective, eroding our ability to problem solve, creating fatigue and more stress, with the final outcome of actually causing bodily breakdown.

Anyone who has ever survived through the very real experience of Burnout knows the truth in this “chase your tail” situation.

 

Radical Care Concept Challenge: Support

Everyone needs help from time to time.

This week’s challenge is about becoming aware of your need and the need of others.

Too often we are afraid to ask for help, or we are increasingly distracted by the noisiness around us, often on our screens a few inches from our faces.

Awareness is something that needs to be built into your daily schedule before it becomes a regular practice and a part of your character.

Please don’t get hard on yourself if you decide to participate in this R2C Challenge; opening your eyes and heart is not something that happens consistently overnight.

 

If You Need Help: Ask for it!
This is going to feel scary. Do it anyway.

What do you need help with that you legitimately have difficulty shouldering right now?

Caveat: Notice how the most “unhelpful” people are also the same people who are quick to judge? It might show up as gossiping or providing an opinion on a matter when no one asked for it. Being a nosey busybody is also a sign. Be cautious about asking that person for help.

Seek support from someone whose heart you can trust.

Asking a Sandpaper Person for their help is a surefire way to erode your confidence in your ability to ask for support.

 

Ask If You Can Offer Help:
If you don’t feel like you can ask for help, or if you genuinely don’t have anything you need help with, build awareness by opening your eyes to see the need for mercy around you.

Ask around and fill in the blanks with what you’re physically and emotionally capable of aiding.

PS: this might feel scary too. Do it anyway.

The more you are able to recognize and be aware of peoples’ needs, you’ll be better equipped to recognize it within yourself.

Caveat: Don’t be the Judgmental Helper.

You don’t get to decide the parameters or worthiness of a person’s need.

The Asker defines support. Barring any legal or physical dangers, being sure to actively maintain your own integrity and honoring your personal values, step in appropriately.

Don’t take away a person’s agency to help themself.
Be cautious about completely taking the responsibility on yourself. People in need are rarely 3 year olds with zero emotional problem-solving skills.

Sometimes, the best help you can give is sitting with this person, shoulder-to-shoulder, with your mouth shut.

Nothing is more empathetic then sitting with someone in need as they navigate life.

They are capable and they will thrive in supportive community, so be supportive community.

Well-intentioned, truthful advice incorrectly applied with insensitivity can destroy people.

 

If You’ve Been Asked for Help:
Do it. Do not pass go…do not collect $200.

Please-please-please don’t drop the ball.

When someone asks you for help, it takes tremendous courage for that person to bare their vulnerabilities to you.

If you give them the old, “yeah, I’ll do it later” brush off, or only half listen because you are distracted by your own perspectives and numbing techniques, you will effectively erode that person’s trust in you.

By not listening, nor following through, you are reinforcing the cultural context about how you shouldn’t really ask for help.

Bottom Line: You get to decide if you’re going to be the cure, or a part of the disease.

 

No person is an island. We can’t do it alone. Honor your need for help.

Help those in need with eyes, arms, and heart open wide.

We are not made to walk through life, struggling alone, in life’s hardships.

As the old saying goes, “Many hands make light work”; get creative and see where your hands, your good heart, and your words can speak life into someone else’s experience.

We are a people in need and we have incredible capacity to extend compassion in like measure.

You just may save someone’s life.

And that, my Friend, is a beautiful thing.